Banned athlete Gretel inspired Julie

Chris While and Julie Matthews

WHEN Julie Matthews was asked to join the BBC Radio Ballads programme as a writer in 2012, she had no idea what was coming.

The Sheffield-born singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer said: "The idea behind the show is that a team of writers are given interviews and are tasked with creating songs around them.

Julie was asked to create a song based on an interview with German athlete Gretel Bergmann (also known as Margaret Bergmann-Lambert).

Mrs Bergmann was a high-jumper for the German national team, but on January 30, 1933, after the Nazis rise to power, she was expelled from the team for being Jewish.

The German government requested that she return to Germany, having fled shortly after being expelled from the team, in order to help portray the nation as a liberal-minded, tolerant country.

Members of her family, who had stayed behind, were threatened if she did not return.

She returned to Germany, where she was allowed to prepare for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

However, shortly before the opening of the Olympics, her accomplishment was stricken from the record books and she received a letter from the German sports authorities to say she was being removed from the team for under-performance.

Mrs Bergmann emigrated to America where she continued to compete, winning the 1937 American women's high jump and shotput championships.

"Her story utterly blew me away," Julie said. "She is the most inspirational woman.

"I wrote and recorded the song Nei Wieder (Never Again) using her story as the inspiration."

During a tour of Australia a few years later, Julie and her musical partner Chris While told the story of Gretel before performing the song. The reaction of one audience member led to an interesting encounter.

Julie explained: "Chris and I heard an audible gasp from a lady at the front. We spoke to her after the show and it turned out that she was making a documentary about her Jewish heritage."

The lady in question, although halachically Jewish, did not know about her religion until she emigrated from South Africa to Australia many years ago.

"This lady had a photo of her father and two women. On the back it said that he was standing with Gretel Bergmann.

"It turned out that her father had left Germany at the same time as Gretel, but because of his experiences at the time, he had hidden his Jewish identity for the rest of his life.

"I really did not know what to say when I heard this, it was the most amazing story."

Nei Wieder features on While and Matthews' new album, Infinite Sky (Fat Cat).

They perform at The Atkinson, Southport, on Thursday.

Site developed & maintained by
© 2015 Jewish Telegraph